I was recently approached by someone creating their own troupe and asked for suggestions. After sitting and thinking for a while, this was my reply:
“You got to know when to hold ’em,Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.”
Actually, that wasn’t my response but I forgot how much I love that song – and there IS truth in that statement. I had two replies for this person, actually. Klark Harvy of JAPA Academy recently held a presentation on being a Performance Director – director of a troupe/venue. I attended and it was an excellent presentation, one I highly recommend for anyone currently running a venue or considering opening one.
My second response? I wanted to put down my thoughts in writing and share them here. Make sense of all the stuff rambling around in my head and also have the opportunity to add and adjust.
What I write is based on my own thoughts, experiences, opinions, and what I’ve learned over the years. As always, question everything and take from it what you will. Some of these may be difficult to consider, but I feel it’s very important. A strong foundation is the key to success. There’s only one chance to make a good first impression. When your troupe or venue makes its appearance on the grid – do it with a “bang” not an “oops”.
“The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
I’ll be focusing on dance venues here, but much can be applied to starting your own troupe. Ready?
The Tough Questions
Why do you want to start your own venue? Spend some time on introspection here. Is it to provide opportunities to new choreographers, a different focus than other venues on the grid, to create a performance atmosphere you want to dance in and also share with others? Is it for the spotlight? New ideas? New ways of doing things? Focus on your motivation. This is what will keep you going when things get tough.
Commitment of Time. How often will shows be performed at your theatre? When will you have practices? Will you be building the theatre? Who will be promoting it? Will you be interviewing new dancers and choreographers? If you hire others to do these things, are you able to cover their tasks when they don’t/can’t? Do you have the time to commit to sustain what you want to do? How much time will this take away from your own dance creations and performances, and is that ok for you? Be realistic on the time you can invest and also let this help guide you in how often you’d like to have performances at your venue. Two quality shows is much better than four rushed ones.
Commitment of Funds. There will be costs associated with running a venue. At minimum will be the land tier/rent which is generally the most sizable investment and ongoing cost. Others may include purchasing/building/modifying a theatre, landscaping, purchasing seating, lighting, etc. Will you be paying the DJ, the builder, the hostess, and others? Will you have special events? Change the decorations? Don’t assume tips will cover the costs. If you’ve lined up sponsors, are you prepared if one of the sponsors leaves? Will this commitment put a strain on you and your funds? Have a plan, and also create a “cushion” to cover months when expenses are higher.
Experience. Are you ready to run your own venue? Do you have experience and an understanding of the different aspects – working with a DJ, music issues, dancer issues. When your choreographers have a question, will you be able to assist them to guide them to someone who can? What if a DJ doesn’t show? None of the sets will rez? Are you prepared to handle emergencies? Experience in the dance world and different aspects of dance are invaluable. You will be pulling every piece of knowledge and resource you have when creating and running your own venue.
Interpersonal Skills. Behind each avatar is a person with feelings, motivations, and goals. As a venue owner/manager, you will need to address conflicts and issues. No, you don’t have to resolve their argument with their partner, but you may have to address it if it affects your venue and the morale of the other members. Generally you will need at various times to be the mentor/ cheerleader/ all business/ strict/ supportive/ encouraging, etc. Your members should WANT to be there, and they will generally be looking at you to lead them/to create a positive atmosphere. There will be times where you have to fire someone, or have a “come to Jesus” meeting with them. Address morale issues, unacceptable behaviour, and unhappiness in your team. You will also need to be consistent and treat EVERYONE as equally as possible. Are you prepared to handle angry/rude audience members? Comments and questions from people attending your show? How will you respond? There will be challenging moments and tough decisions.
Brainstorming and Planning
Before you rush out to buy some land and a theatre, create a concept of what you want your theatre to BE.
- what type of performances do you want? burlesque, variety, themed shows, big productions?
- Will performances at your venue be restricted to only one dance style? Hip hop only, burlesque only, etc.
- do you want a smaller sized, more intimate venue with a smaller stage, or do you want to host full stage performances?
- what style do you see your theatre? indoor, outdoor, formal, jazzy, modern, etc.
- Do you want to focus your performances on members of your troupe or focus on choreographers who perform across the grid? Will shows be limited to only your troupe members? Will you invite in guest choreographers? How often?
- Your audience – will your venue be kid friendly? Allow fantasy characters? Will you require realistic avatars for a RL type experience?
- Will full nudity be allowed in the performances? Partial nudity? Harsh or vulgar language, blood and gore? Religious or political type acts? Will you allow sexually oriented acts on stage?
Write It Up – Outline Your Theatre, Expectations, and Rules
A clear outline and focus in the beginning will save hours of time and acrimony. By being clear in your own vision, your expectations, and clear communications with others there will be better understanding and fewer missteps.
Note: Don’t write a 20 page rule book! This wills generally scare any potential members away and often makes them feel smothered with micro-management. This exercise is primarily for you, and later to be used in theatre advertising, communication, and as a roadmap for you as your theatre evolves into reality.
Your theatre vision:
- theatre show style (variety, burlesque, etc.)
- theatre building style, size/structure/modern, formal, moroccan, fantasy, etc.
- where will you have your theatre? your own sim? a private parcel? mainland?
- what rating is the sim where you will be? Adult or moderate? Moderate sims have content restrictions – such as no sex acts on stage.
- will it be on a platform in the sky? (important for dance sets that rise up through the floor)
- what will the area surrounding the theatre be like? Will the landing area be inside the theatre or will you have landscaping around it?
- will lag be an issue? (especially if your theatre will be on the parcel)
- will you have the ability to restart the sim, or can you contact the land manager to do this in a timely fashion?
- will this be a regular sim allowing up to 110 people, and if so, how will you manage the maximum number of guests? Can you change it? Can you request it be lowered temporarily?
- will this be a homestead sim allowing up to 25 people (including premium members)? How many dancers and how many audience members will be able to attend?
- windlight – can you change the region windlight, generally to midday or midnight? If not, you may wish to have the audience change their windlight before the show.
- how often will you have a show at your theatre?
- will there be one or more practices? when will they be?
- have you checked the dance queen calendar for other show conflicts? This may limit the dancers/choreographers available for your shows/practices.
- what kind of atmosphere would you like for your theatre? fun and casual, similar to RL burlesque club, RL broadway show, seedy bar? etc.
- what is the maximum length of the music a dancer can use? 4 minutes? 5 minutes? over 5 minutes only with approval?
- What is the maximum number of dancers allowed in a performance?
- Can choreographers bring their own guest dancers, or must they use guest dancers from your theatre group?
- Is full nudity allowed? Partial nudity? Is this for men and women, or different for each?
- What limits do you have for nudity, vulgar language, eroticism for your theatre?
- Will there be themed shows, where all the acts need to follow a cohesive theme?
- Will you have a hostess?
- Will choreographers build their own sets or will you have a set builder?
- Will you assign someone to collect dance notecards and create practice order/show order?
- Who will handle land issues/donations?
- Will you have sponsors to support your venue, or use donations to offset some of the expenses?
- Will tips be split evenly among the choreographers/DJ/hostess, or will each have their own tip jar?
- Will you be DJing the show, or will you hire a DJ?
- Should the DJ talk over the air, or will all communication be in text?
- will non-human avatars be able to attend? children? Is anyone allowed to attend?
- What is the dress code for audience members?
- how will you manage high script counts? General announcements, automatic ejector, assign someone to monitor and address personally?
Making it happen (in no particular order at this point)
Create a venue identity. This includes your venue name, logo, and overall feel.
Choosing a venue name – something meaningful to you, that others will remember, that is not already in use. Check out the Dance Queens blog, use search for place and group names.
Create a logo. You don’t have to hire an expensive marketing firm of course. If you are comfortable using graphic tools like Photoshop, create your own. Other options – ask a friend or find a logo creator in SL. They are out there and sell their services. Strive for a nice looking logo that is unique. (Don’t download a pretty image from Google and slap your venue name on it – chances are others have seen that image.) Make it yours.
Create an ad board for your venue. Your logo, a notecard about your theatre, and the landmark.
Marketing. When you are ready to begin recruiting staff, get your logo and ad board out there. Contact Dance Queens to have it added to their wall, contact other venues that do cross-advertising. (They post a board about your venue, you post one about theirs.)